A brief history
In 1956 Fender introduced the Musicmaster and Duo-Sonic guitars as affordable "3/4-size" short-scale student models. As such, they aren't considered as collectible and don't have near the value of Strats and Teles from the same era. The Musicmaster and Duo-Sonic were essentially the same guitar, with the addition of another pickup (in the bridge position) and a toggle switch on the Duo-Sonic. Both models received a slight facelift in 1959, along with all other Fenders. In 1964 the "II" variants (essentially spinoffs of the then-new Mustang) were introduced, and both models were revised and offered in a 24" scale length as well. Now essentially the same as a Mustang but with no vibrato system, the Duo-Sonic was officially discontinued ca. 1969. The Musicmaster was made through 1982, receiving a third facelift ca. 1976. A Mexican-made reissue Fender Duo-Sonic [pic c/o T. Pershing] was released in early 1993 but discontinued in early 1998.
Two distant cousins of the original Musicmasterand Duo-Sonic are the Bronco guitar and the Musicmaster bass. In my opinion, these models owe more to the Mustang guitar and bass. The Bronco was introduced in1967 as a replacement for the Musicmaster and features a single pickup in the bridge position with a new vibrato system. (It never did replace the Musicmaster, though; both were discontinued with the advent of Fender's Squier line in the early '80s.) In the late '60s, Fender introduced the Musicmaster bass, also as ashort-scale student model. Both models were produced throughout the '70s.
More recently, Fender revived the Duo-Sonic and Musicmaster names in its Squier line of budget guitars and basses. In late 1997 Fender re-introduced the Musicmaster bass under its Squier "Vista" nameplate. At the 1998 Winter NAMM conference, Fender announced plans to revive the Musicmaster and Duo-Sonic guitars, as part of Squier's Chinese-made "Vista" and "Affinity" series of guitars. Unfortunately, the new Musicmaster used the name only (looking more like the Musicmaster bass) and was long-scale with a single humbucker, while the "new" Duo-Sonic was almost identical to the Mexican-made reissue. All of the Squier reissues have since been discontinued. In late 1997 the Fender Cyclone effectively replaced the Mustang in Fender's catalog. Aside from the bridge humbucker, the Strat-style tremolo, and the 24.75" scale length, it looks very Duo-Sonic-esque. Most recently, the Fender Mustang and Mustang Bass were re-issued, and in 2008 the Duo-Sonic was re-re-issued by Squier as part of their "classic Vibe" series.
Online resources and credits
The information on this site was derived from a variety of sources. For further reading, I recommend:
- GGJaguar's Guitarium and Ampeteria has more information on '50s and '60s Musicmasters and Duo-Sonics (see the gallery for direct links), with pictures.
- Fellow enthusiast Tim Pershing has contributed to GGJaguar's page (as well as images and technical info to this page), and is enough of an authority on Fender's 3/4 scale guitars to have written a2-part article published in Twentieth Century Guitar magazine (Dec. 1996/Jan. 1997). The December 1996 issue (with data on models corresponding to the first three galleries listed on this web page) is long sold out, and the January issue (with all kinds of date/serial number I.D. info) is likely unavailable since the magazine folded in 2008. With his permission, an updated version combining both of Mr. Pershing's articles is now online.
- Jim Shine's Guitar Info Page features a detailed case study of one of the first Duo-Sonics ever produced, plus Fender parts info galore.
- The Vintage Guitar Info sitehas some background information (including serial number info) on Duo-Sonics and Fenders in general, plus an extensive bibliography.
- In many ways, the Duo-Sonic/Musicmaster and the Mustang stories are intertwined. Visit Mr. Maxima's The Fender Mustang Story and ShortScale.org to learn how.
Who cares about a student guitar?
Sure, few famous guitar players are regularly seen with a Musicmaster or a Duo-Sonic; even the pawnshop trash-slinging Kurt Cobain favored Mustangs and Jaguars (although I don't think Fender made lefty MM/DS guitars). However, several people of note have used them:
Jimi Hendrix [far right] backing up the Isley Brothers with his early '60s tan Duo-Sonic, in 1964. [photo credit: Caesar Glebbeek Collection; scan c/o T. Pershing]
- Likely due to financial constraints, the one and only James Marshall Hendrix wielded a Duo-Sonic when he backed up the Isley Brothers in the early 1960s (Guitar Player, Sept. 1995), and also used one in the studio in the mid-1960s. While gigging with Curtis Knight & the Squires (New York, late 1965), Jimi [far left] played a "shaded sunburst" Duo-Sonic. [photo credit: Caesar Glebbeek Collection; scan c/o T. Pershing] Jimi subsequently moved on to a Strat and much greater fame while fronting his own band.
- Larry was always my favorite Stooge! [source: '60s Fender ad copy]
- In the late 1960s, fusion guru John McLaughlin reportedly cut his teeth on a Fender Duo-Sonic (or possibly a Mustang) before picking up the Gibson 6/12 doubleneck he later become famous with in the Mahavishnu Orchestra.
- The late Rory Gallagher took advantage of his Musicmaster/Duo-Sonic hybrid's short scale by tuning it up a half-step to "F".
- The late Stevie Ray Vaughan reportedly used to warm up on an old Musicmaster prior to gigs, but to date I still have never seen a photo of SRV with such a guitar.
- In the punk arena, Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine of Television reportedly used Duo-Sonics ("the obscure .22 Magnum Derringer of the pre-CBS line"), as did Patti Smith.
- Adrian Belew has recorded with a fretless Musicmaster, and his "Twang Bar King" guitar was a reported to be a heavily mutated Mustang.
- John Oates (of Hall and ...) used an early '60s Duo-Sonic in at least one of their videos, as did Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth.
- Mickey Melchiondo (a.k.a. Dean Ween) used and abused a pair of Musicmasters as his main guitars on every Ween recording and live appearance from 1987-1995, including the first 4 Ween albums. His well-worn 1960 Musicmaster-to-Duo-Sonic conversion is featured in the mods gallery. (thanks, James and Mickey!)
- Dweezil Zappa has endorsed Seymour Duncan while playing a '50s Duo-Sonic [source: SD ad copy]
- Indie-rock goddess Liz Phair's two main guitars are a now-faded white '60s Duo-Sonic (also featured on the cover of her epononymously-titled album) and a red '60s Musicmaster [source: hurlburt.net]
- During her tenure on the show, former "Saturday Night Live" band guitarist Yoshiko Hirashige used a vintage Duo-Sonic as a backup to her Gibson SG.
- More recently, ex-Luscious Jackson member Gabby Glaser has been seen playing a (refinished) black '50s Duo-Sonic at her solo gigs.
Aside from Hendrix and SRV, the common denominator might be relatively small hands. Personally speaking, my hands like the feel of guitars with skinny necks (although I prefer the 24" scale length over the 22.5" scale). Plus, the short scale enables me to grab Andy Summers-esque jazz chords without breaking my hand.